Historical Artefacts Should Be Repatriated to Their Country of Origin
There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the demands for the return of certain artefacts, most prominently the Elgin Marbles, to their country of origin. In this debate we will explore the social, moral and practical arguments for and against artefact repatriation. We can discuss their benefits and ramifications by using examples from around the world.
You can also add to the debate by leaving a comment at the end of the page.
Morally it is the right thing to do
Artefacts belong to their country of origin; repatriation is the right thing to do. They have a unique connection with the place where they were produced and are an essential part of the cultural history of that area. That link should be honoured by returning the artefacts to the place where they were originally made and used.
'It's the right thing to do' isn't really a concrete answer. Says who? Why? Can the original country preserve the artefact as efficiently? Does it change ownership after a certain period? If these artefacts are made to return to their country of origin, what is to say that other countries may not demand the same thing. They are generally better taken care of in Museums where they are, and if one artefact is given back, shouldn't they all? It is unrealiable and unrealist to do this.
These questions need to be addressed.
Artefacts are enriched by being viewed in their place of origin
You can only truly appreciate a historical artefact in its historical context i.e. the place it was found. If we take as our example the Elgin Marbles, currently housed in the British Museum in London, this is clear. The marbles originally formed part of the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens, and it is only on seeing this space that the visitor can really appreciate the intended impact of the sculptures. In the British Museum they appear as mere disconnected fragments, stripped of their meaning by the loss of their geographical and historical context.
The artefacts' place of origin has more often than not changed dramatically; for instance, it is absurd to think that a relic of Roman Britain would be somehow illuminated by being displayed in contemporary London, where almost all traces of Roman civilisation have been erased. The Acropolis of Athens has been unusually well preserved and reconstructed as a heritage site; however, I am still not convinced that the context of modern Orthodox Greece aids visitors’ appreciation of an ancient pagan relic.
The Nigerians have a few Benin bronzes that the British Museum sold back to them for £75 in total, but it is nigh impossible to view them. How would the Benin people or the rest of the world be able to appreciate them in their place of origin if they could not view them?
They are part of the area's history
Many people from an artefact's country of origin never get to see them because they can't afford to travel to a foreign museum. These artefacts are part of their cultural history and national identity and it is important that local people are given the opportunity to see them.
Museums all over the world do loan out their collections. Just because they are held in another country’s museum does not mean that the place of origin would not be able to access artefacts.
These artefacts have been illegally procured
Often artefacts are either stolen or acquired from their rightful homes in 'dubious circumstances'. Elgin, for instance, appropriated the Parthenon Marbles from the Ottoman authorities who had invaded Greece and were arguably not the rightful owners of the site; he took advantage of political turmoil in order to pillage these ancient statues. The Axum obelisk was seized from Ethiopia by Mussolini as a trophy of war; fortunately the injustice of this action has since been recognised and the obelisk was restored to its rightful place in 2005.
Unesco regulations only require the return of artefacts removed from their country of origin after 1970. This international body has therefore stated that the appropriation of artefacts before this date is legal and permissible. Precious objects have been taken as the spoils of war since ancient times; many of these artefacts are probably built from materials (or even using the labour) acquired through war and conquest. Anyway, objects seized in war time are usually taken for their own protection, as the country of origin is not in a suitably stable position to care for them properly; this is the case for the Elgin Marbles. Don’t the nations who have expended resources protecting and preserving these arguments deserve in return the right to display them?
These artefacts are the foundation of a potential tourist trade
Cultural and historical tourism is an important source of income for many countries. If their artefacts have been appropriated by foreign museums in wealthy nations then they are being deprived of the economic opportunity to build a successful tourist trade.
The countries who have supposedly lost artefacts, such as Greece, often have plenty of other ameneties which are a great draw for tourists; warm weather, good beaches, attractive scenery etc. Plus they retain the attraction of being the original locations of historical events or places of interest. The sanctuary's of Olympia and Delphi in Greece are a good example of this; they are not filled with artefacts, but continue to attract visitors because the sites are interesting in themselves. Also, people who have seen an artefact in a foreign museum may then be drawn to visit the area it originated from.
It is the tourist trade of the nations where these artefacts are held (mostly northern European nations, like Britain and France) which would suffer if they were repatriated. Lacking the climate and natural amenities of other tourist destinations they rely on their cultural offerings in order to attract visitors.
The artefacts serve as reminders of past oppression
The fact that many of their most important cultural artefacts remain in the hands of the old Western powers is a reminder to many developing nations of their past oppression. For instance, the British Museum is refusing to return 700 of the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria despite repeated requests by the Nigerian government. The Rosetta stone has been the subject of demands by the Egyptian government but remains in London. These artefacts become almost souvenirs of Imperialism, a petty way of retaining some kind of cultural ownership long after the political power of Britain has faded.
There is no reason to politicise this argument; museums have no 'political' agenda but merely wish to preserve historical objects. Their reasons for keeping these items may be financial, or in the interests of keeping the artefacts safe and accessible to the public; whatever they may be, they are not political.
Additionally, why would countries want to remember past oppression? Wouldn't they rather move on from the darker areas in their history and look at the more triumphant victories that they had?
We now have the resources to carry out such a move
Returning artefacts to their original locations would in the past have been an unfeasible project simply because of the difficulty of transporting everything. Now, however, transport is much quicker and easier and we have improved technology to make the transit less damaging to the artefact; for instance, temperature-controlled containers.
Even with modern transport links and technology, transporting every artefact in a foreign museum back to its location of origin would be an impractically mammoth task. The risk of damage to artefacts would be unavoidable, not to mention the possibility of theft or sabotage en route. Important artefacts in transit would be an ideal public target for acts of terrorism.
The home countries might not even have the space or resources to create a suitable place to house the returned artefacts. Then if we consider the financial and environmental impact of all these transfers, it is clear that to move so many valuable objects around the world is not a practical idea.
The corrupt nature of a country asking for repatriation is not the fact in isssue, and should not even be put forward as a reason for not repatriating the artefacts, there is in truth no country that does not have a level of corruptness(pardon me), some c
The corrupt nature of a country asking for repatriation is not the fact in isssue, and should not even be put forward as a reason for not repatriating the artefacts, there is in truth no country that does not have a level of corruptness(pardon me), some countries are just more corrupt than others. it is people that do the corrupting.
What if the "corruptness" leads to destruction of the artefact? For example, look at the way that the Italian government has destroyed Pompeii - a wall collapsed in the last few months, and a restaurant has been built directly on top of one of the buildings. If we want to preserve our archaeology, we need to make sure that archaeology is looked after - it's not just a case of looking after the artefacts which are in your local area, but of the world coming together to preserve our archaeology. If remains from Pompeii would be better preserved in London than in Naples Museum, why shouldn't they be moved there?
Artefacts should be repatriated....including the people which were stolen and scattered world wide!
Historical artefacts should be repatriated to their origin of country....including the people which were stolen and scattered world wide!
The magnitude of the stolen treasures from Ethiopia during Mussolini's massacre can only be compared to the rise of Rome's vatican't.
Earth's right-full church of Emperor Selassie 1st was stolen and brought to the vatican't along with artifacts!
Fooling the world to follow satan's synagogue which now reveals them selves as a church of homos!
If not for this atro-city the world would have gotten true spiritual teachings!
The world needs an exodus to return the stolen people to Afreeca!
The riches of the world will return with them from world wide.
Other wise we stay in these caucasian countries enriching them & making them world power while they down press our Afreecan family.
1. Morally it is the right thing to do
2. Artefacts enriched their place of origin
3. They are part of the area's history pre-dating 2010 years
4. These artefacts have been illegally procured - Theft, tomb raiders
6. The artefacts serve as reminders of past history B4 down-pression
7. We now have the resources to carry out such an exodus
8. The corrupt nature of a country asking to keep these stolen arts are like a thief saying he owns it!
9. Same as they say about their stolen slaves that are still in their perfected modern slavery!
10. repatriation is the fact in issue, not only for not repatriating the artefacts, also for repatriating the people!!!
Rastafari H.I.M. Selah see 1st
I say so, we are debating artefacts not people!!!
These artefacts should bring revenue to the counties of origin
Most Artefacts have been Illegally obtained (stolen) and used for such extreme high money making exploitations, mainly in the line of tourism, being exhibited across countries in order to make ill gotten revenue and benefit private collectors and wealthy curators alike. if such exhibitions were to take place they should preferably generate incomes for the people in the immediate locations therefore generate tourism and benefit the countries economy on a whole. then maybe we wouldn't be in such a messed up world as we are!!
Everything will be the same if we keep artifacts that aren't ours all over the world.
Because now you breath manually
We are obliged to protect the artefact
Wealthier countries sometimes simply have better resources to protect, preserve and restore historical artefacts than their country of origin. Our moral obligation is to preserve the artefact for future generations, and if this is best achieved by it remaining in a foreign country then that must be the course of action.
This argument might have applied in the 19th century, when many artefacts were seized in order to preserve them. But in the 21st century the vast majority of nations have the technology and resources to preserve their own artefacts just as well as the institutions which now house them. Having preserved them long enough for other nations to 'catch up' these countries must now give the artefacts back to their original owners.
The historical context of an artefact is more than just its place of origin
Artefacts have a historical and symbolic meaning that transcends their origins; over the years they acquire a connection with the place that they are housed. For example, the Egyptian obelisk that stands in the Piazza di San Pietro in Rome was brought to Italy in the reign of Caligula. It is no longer merely an ‘Egyptian’ artefact- it has become a symbol of Roman dominance in the ancient world and the European Christian culture that succeeded it. Another Egyptian obelisk, brought to New York in the 19th century, has a symbolic association for Freemasons as a link to their predecessors.
A history of conquest, theft and oppression is not one that we should be proud of; these artefacts should be used to celebrate individual cultures, not to commemorate their destruction by Imperialist powers.
Artefacts should be accessible to the largest amount of visitors possible
The place of origin should not have a monopoly over their own artefacts; they are part of our collective history and should be open to anyone who is interested in what they have to tell us. Therefore they ought to be exhibited in places which receive the most visitors and are most accessible to people of all nationalities. Larger institutions are the most suitable home for these artefacts, especially since some UK museums are supported by external funding and thus do not charge a fee to see the exhibits.
International visitors who can afford to go to London or Paris to see these artefacts could almost certainly also afford to visit them in their country of origin. There they would be able to appreciate them fully in their correct context and enjoy a genuine cultural exchange with the place that created them.
The majority of artefacts are 100% 'legal'.
The majority of artefacts are acquired fairly and their ownership is not disputed. Therefore to argue that all artefacts should be repatriated to their countries of origin is ridiculous; for the most part, the country of origin is perfectly happy for these objects to be held by foreign museums. Symbolic or controversial items like the Axum obelisk or the Elgin Marbles are a rare exception.
The countries of origin may not be clamouring for the return of every single one of their stolen artefacts, simply because the numbers of them are so great that they do not have the time or resources. Yet to give them back would not only be doing a service to the preservation of cultural history but also a gesture of goodwill and cooperation that we try to foster between nations in the modern world.
Having artefacts in different locations encourages us to think of our common origins
For example, Olduvai handaxes (from countries in Eastern Africa such as Tanzania) are held in the British Museum - but the people who made them are our ancestors just as much as they are the ancestors of local people. Holding these in London encourages us to see the common ground we hold with people everywhere in the world, whereas keeping them only in their local country highlights our differences and tribal identities; this is something which could eventually lead to racism. Similarly, having Greek displays in England (with artefacts such as the Parthenon Marbles) encourages us to realise the similarities between our own modern culture and Ancient Greece, showing us "what the Greeks did for us", so to speak.
because we said so
What do you think?